Disillusioned by democracy

Daily: Pakistan Observer
Date: 07.09.08

Is the dream of practising true democracy about to be frustrated is the question haunting
the mind of every Pakistani now-a-days?

In the given political context, the probable answer is ‘yes.’ The reason for the pessimism lies
in the manner the co-option between the PPP and the PML-N faltered to collapse. The point
that the deposed judges be restored within 24 hours of impeachment of the ex-President
General (retired) Pervaiz Musharraf has become secondary. The fundamental point of
concern is the manner – even if not the reason – in which the PPP disagreed with the PML-
N in the post-impeachment scenario.

The presidential election was a must event to happen but the PML-N was taken by surprise
on the schedule announced. The concern of the PML-N was that, being partner in the
coalition, it should have been consulted. Further, the same consultation should have been
done with the smaller partners of the coalition: the ANP and the JUI-F. But no prior
discussion took place.

The election commission was no doubt independent but what was hurry in holding the
election is still a moot point. The burden of announcement could have rested on the
shoulders of the election commission, had the announcement not been coincided with the
declaration made by Asif Ali Zardari that he was repudiating the written agreement – the   
agreement that had been signed with Nawaz Sharif just a few days ago of the impeachment
process. Announcement of the date of election by the election commission and disclaimer
of the agreement publicly by Zardari made Nawaz conclude that the government of the PPP
fiddled with the election commission to announce the schedule. Nawaz might also have
concluded that the election commission did not remain independent. Consequently, the
trust deficit appeared that led to distancing of the PML-N from the PPP.

To add fuel to fire, Zardari or the PPP did not request the election commission to postpone
the date of election in order to dissipate apprehensions of the coalition partners regarding
clandestine role of the PPP in scheduling the election. That was why, perhaps, the election
schedule was considered a contrived matter. Some people further guessed that the
election episode was to delay restoration of the deposed judges and to buy more time –
nay, give extra time to Farooq Naik – to woo several deposed judges to take fresh oath –
but attain old seniority.

Any way, the act of announcement of the election schedule reflected that the government
was run only by the PPP and the other coalition partners were actually not participants in
the government affairs. Hence, the second message – the first being the surprise – for the
coalition partners was of deprivation meaning thereby that the coalition partners were
partners only when a political decision was to be taken and not otherwise.

It seems that the element of surprise is becoming the hallmark of the PPP government. In
the recent past, an announcement was made to delay the by-elections. Later on, it was
transpired that Rehman Malik was the actor behind that effort. On stern reaction of the PML-
N, who was taken by surprise, the decision was withdrawn. At that time, the trust deficit
appeared but filled up quickly. Moreover, just a few days ago, the NAB – now a department
subordinate to the Ministry of Law – announced to reopen the cases against Nawaz.
Interestingly, the judges were not available but the date of hearing coincided with the
presidential election where the PML-N was backing its own candidate. Consequently, both
the element of surprise and the trust deficit sprang up together. On the same day, however,
the Prime Minister, Yosuf Raza Gillani, announced that the NAB had no legal standing. But
the damage had been done.  

It seems that the PPP is has been trying to exploit the weaknesses of the fellow political
parties. The PPP seems brandishing stick to strike but then quickly offering carrot – before
the defendant reacts against the stick. The PPP is playing a game which is quite dangerous
when the era of military dictatorship has not passed a long distance. The situation can
become counterproductive if the PML-N renounces its parliament-saving stance and sides
with the forces not liked by the PPP.

Moreover, since the PPP has taken charge of the prime house, it has been resorting to
unpredictable moves – the moves which are pregnant with harming the interests of the
parties that has been trying to co-exist with the PPP, like the PML-N. Sometimes, it seems
that at the core of such moves are the grievances of Zardari who remained languished in
jails for several years due to the corruption cases made by Saif ul Rehman of the PML-N. It
is understandable that, during the exile period, Nawaz shifted the burden of constituting
cases against Zardari on Rehman and absolved himself and the PML-N of any such acts.
Further, it seems that Zardari is also harbouring grudge against the deposed Chief Justice,
Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry who, according to Zardari, once refused to hear him. Hence,
the role of the grudge factor cannot be excluded from the current performance of the PPP.

As it is apparent, Nawaz had been taken for a ride and then Nawaz was discarded before
he could share the spoils of war against Musharraf. But this is not the point. The point is the
way Zardari acted to distance himself from Nawaz after August 18, 2008. By publicly
ridiculing the sanctity of a nascent, written agreement, in fact Zardari broached an ethical
debate: whether the agreements (written or even oral) are meant to (dis)honour? No doubt,
later on, Zardari apologized to Nawaz but the damage had been done: the reputation of the
PPP had been tarnished.

Even now it is not too late to follow the dictates of the principles and pledges. Unconditional
restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry through a presidential order
(issued by the forthcoming president) may rekindle hopes of the people in the fruits of true
democracy.

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